7 Ways Stores Get You to Spend More and How to Avoid Falling for Their Traps

We all know that feeling. You walk into a store, see something you like, and before you know it, you’re buying things you never even knew you needed. It’s like the store was designed to get you to spend as much money as possible!

And, well, it probably was. Most stores are specifically designed to get us to open our wallets and hand over our hard-earned cash. But the good news is that once you know these tricks, you can avoid them and save yourself some money.

Here are some ways stores are designed to get you to spend and how to overcome it.

They set the mood

In this money shopping meme gif, Rachel Zoe explains shows how we fall for stores tricks by buying more than we intend to.

Stores are masters at playing on your emotions to get you to spend more. For example, did you know that stores often use music to influence your spending? Studies have shown that slower-paced music makes shoppers move more slowly and spend more time in the store, while faster-paced music encourages them to move quickly and make impulse purchases.

Whether it’s using music to make you feel happy and carefree or offering special deals that seem too good to pass up, they know how to push all the right buttons.

Anchor pricing

Or have you ever noticed how stores tend to place their cheapest items near the door? That’s because they want to give you what’s known as “anchor pricing.” Seeing a low price makes all the store’s other prices seem more reasonable, even if they’re quite high. They’ll also put a high-end item alongside cheaper items. The shopper’s brain then subconsciously compares the prices, making the more affordable options seem like bargains.

Loss aversion

Stores also like to use “loss aversion” to get us to spend, where we’re more motivated to avoid losses than to seek gains. So, for example, a store might offer a discount if you buy a certain number of items but also add an extra fee if you don’t spend enough. This encourages us to spend more to avoid the loss of that discount. (Memorial Day Sale, anyone?)

Decoy effect

Another common strategy is called the decoy effect. Stores will offer two similar products, with one slightly more expensive than the other. The shopper’s brain then perceives the cheaper option as the better deal, even if it’s not necessarily true.

Image of a piggy bank next to the text 10 ways to avoid overspending. The read now button links to the article 10 Ways to Avoid Overspending.

Stores make it easy to spend

In this money meme/gif, Aziz Ansari's character is lamenting how he wants immediate satisfaction from his purchase by receiving it immediately. Header says "When I can't get free 24-hour shipping"

Another way stores get you to overspend is by making it easy. Brick-and-mortar stores are known for accepting all types of payments and offering store credit cards. Online stores provide one-click checkouts, offer store credit cards, and tempt you with buy now pay late programs. Spoiler alert, these are all designed to get you to buy more, not save more.

They offer rewards programs

Who doesn’t love getting rewarded for shopping? But the truth is, these rewards programs are designed to keep us returning for more. The points and rewards we earn entice us to spend more to get bigger and better rewards. Before we know it, we’re spending way more than we ever intended.

They make returns easy

Picture this. You’re out shopping, you find something you love, and you absolutely have to have it. But then you get it home and realize it doesn’t quite work with your existing wardrobe, or it’s not as comfortable as you thought. So what do you do? You take it back to the store and return it, no problem.

But have you ever stopped to think about how easy returns might affect your spending? It turns out that stores count on you not thinking too hard about it.

Here’s the thing: we’re more likely to overspend when returns are easy.

We buy things on impulse, knowing we can always take them back if we change our minds. And that’s what stores want us to do.

So how can you avoid overspending at the store? The next time you’re tempted to buy something on a whim, take a step back and ask yourself if you really need it. And if you’re unsure, see if you can wait a day or two before making the purchase. Chances are, you’ll be able to talk yourself out of it.

When it comes to returns, easy should not equal automatic. By being mindful of how easy returns can influence our spending, we can avoid overspending and save ourselves money in the long run.

Image of a puzzle in the shape of a human head. One central piece is colored as a hundred dollar bill. The text on the right side of the image reads Money Mindfulness Explained. The read now button links to What is Money Mindfulness.

But there are ways to fight back, reduce your impulse spending, and avoid the traps set by stores.

Here’s how:

1. Be aware of sale signage

Sales are one of the most common ways stores get us to overspend. They dangle the promise of a good deal in front of us, and we can’t resist. But be aware that not all sales are created equal. Stores will often use loss leader pricing, where they sell an item at a loss to get us in the door. Once inside, all the other full-priced things will tempt us. Or they might use reference pricing, where they make their items seem like a bargain by listing the regular price next to the sale price (even if the regular price is artificially high). Pay attention to sale signage, and don’t be fooled.

Image of a cell phone showing a payment of $91.07 to Dog Gone Holistic Monday, 21 June. The text above the image reads Transaction Swiping. Track what you spend. *Fall in love* with your progress.

2. Shop with cash

It’s easy to spend more than we have when paying with credit or debit cards. We don’t see the money leaving our account immediately, so it doesn’t feel real. Shopping with cash is a great way to stay mindful of your spending. You’ll be less likely to overspend when you hand over those hard-earned bills.

3. Steer clear of the impulse buy aisle

You know which aisle I’m talking about – the one with all the candy and knick-knacks near the check-out counter. Stores know that we’re more likely to make impulse buys when we’re tired and ready to leave. So they put these items in strategic locations to tempt us. Avoid the temptation by steering clear of the aisle altogether.

4. Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry

Have you ever noticed that you’re more likely to buy unhealthy food when you’re hungry? That’s because our hunger makes us more impulsive. So if you’re trying to stick to a budget, it’s best to avoid shopping when hungry. Otherwise, you might end up overspending on things you don’t need.

5. Take a list

It’s always a good idea to make a list before going shopping. That way, you’ll know exactly what you need to buy, and you won’t be tempted by all the other items in the store. If you are straying from your list, ask yourself if the item is necessary. Chances are, it’s not.

In the money shopping gif, "Emily oo Paris" explains how shopping just makes her feel better.

6. Don’t shop when you’re emotional

We’ve all been there; we’re feeling sad, stressed, or angry and decide to go shopping to make ourselves feel better. But retail therapy is real, and it can quickly lead to overspending. Next time you’re feeling down, try doing something else to make yourself feel better. Go for a walk, call a friend, or watch a movie. You’ll be glad you didn’t overspend on that new outfit you don’t really need.

Brands design their stores to get us to overspend, but we don’t have to fall for their tricks. By being aware of their tactics and making simple changes, we can avoid their traps and save that hard-earned money for another purpose.

Related Reads

10 Ways to Avoid Overspending

How to Stop Impulse Spending and Blowing Your Budget

How Tracking Transactions Can Actually Reduce Stress

7 Bad Money Habits and How to Break Them

How to Save Money By Practicing Mindfulness

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